With a new playoff format for 2020, the Cubs are taking a “just get in” approach to winning it all.
As of Tuesday night, the Chicago Cubs are still leading the NL Central, but their recent series with the Cardinals brought their rivals within striking distance. That said, it arguably doesn’t matter that the team is in danger of losing its hold on first place. In fact, the new format has more than likely shifted the team’s focus elsewhere with a much lower emphasis on taking home the division title.
David Ross and Anthony Rizzo certainly don’t seem worried at all, as the Chicago Tribune pointed out in their own article on why the division title is less important than ever. Rather than concerning themselves with beating St. Louis, Ross and Rizzo’s focus was more on winning that three-game series that everyone has to play no matter what. Anything can happen in three games, so the point is instead just to get there.
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Under the new playoff format, over half of the teams in the MLB will make it to October this year and that has its perks for the Cubs. For one, less focus on winning the division means they can put a greater focus on assuring that their core four of Rizzo, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and Willson Contreras actually start hitting. Contreras has shown improvements as of late, but the other three’s struggles continue and their improvement would solidify the team’s postseason chances.
Moreover, the Cubs are in a particularly good spot due to the monumental struggles of their other two closest rivals, the Brewers and the Reds. While they aren’t completely out of the race or anything, neither of the Cubs’ other rivals have shown much promise for one reason or another and have given the team some room to breathe. Even if the Cubs were to get third in the division, they could still make a wild card and end up in the same, even three-game series like every other contender.
This format also leaves the Cubs room to focus on their recent rotation concerns, something that especially could make or break their postseason this year. The team isn’t in terrible shape for the first round of playoffs, as they’d have Yu Darvish and Kyle Hendricks likely starting Games 1 and 2, but past that, everything else is in question. With Jon Lester’s confidence wavering and the rest of their starters middling or hurt, having some room to figure things out is a luxury not to be wasted.
While I personally don’t like the new postseason format, Chicago is rightfully unconcerned with winning the division and more worried about fixing the issues that could derail their postseason run. Considering how easy it is to get in and how unimportant a top seed seems this year, it’s better to think ahead to October now that they’ve given themselves a cushion. So long as the team doesn’t get complacent, this approach absolutely makes sense.